In Czech Lawmakers strip billionaire PM contender of immunity

Czech lawmakers stripped billionaire Andrej Babis of his parliamentary immunity on Wednesday after allegations of EU funding fraud emerged against the populist leader tipped to win October's general election.

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Former Czech Finance Minister and ANO party chairman Andrej Babis denys allegations of fraud and misuse of EU funds play

Former Czech Finance Minister and ANO party chairman Andrej Babis denys allegations of fraud and misuse of EU funds

(AFP)
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Czech lawmakers stripped billionaire Andrej Babis of his parliamentary immunity on Wednesday after allegations of EU funding fraud emerged against the populist leader tipped to win October's general election.

Police requested the move in August as they sought to charge Babis with fraud and harming the EU's financial interests.

The parliament "has voted in favour" of ending Babis' immunity, deputy speaker Jan Bartosek said as 123 lawmakers voted for, four against, seven abstained and the rest did not show up in the 200-member parliament.

Flatly denying any wrongdoing, Babis insists the allegations are intended to torpedo his centrist ANO movement's popularity ahead of next month's vote.

Justice authorities allege that in 2007, Babis deliberately excluded the Stork Nest farm south of Prague from his sprawling Agrofert holding company to make it eligible for a two-million-euro EU subsidy for small companies.

When the five-year period for checking compliance with the funding conditions passed in 2014, Babis placed the farm back under Agrofert which comprises chemicals and food companies as well as two major Czech broadsheet dailies.

The 63-year-old Slovak-born Babis said Wednesday he could not see any crime, adding that "I see a different thing -- I see elections."

"If I weren't a politician, nobody would investigate the Stork Nest," he added.

Deputy ANO head Jaroslav Faltynek also lost his immunity as MP.

Babis's ANO movement is one of three parties in the Czech Republic's rocky centre-right coalition government alongside the ruling but waning leftwing Social Democrats and the smaller centrist Christian Democrats.

A legacy of four decades of totalitarian rule, corruption has plagued the EU member of 10.5 million people since its 1993 split with Slovakia.

Transparency International ranked the Czech Republic as more corrupt than Botswana on its 2016 corruption perception index.

Leading the polls for a long time, ANO emerged unscathed from a two-week-long crisis in May sparked by allegations of Babis's questionable business dealings which saw him ousted as finance minister.

Babis's ratings were not even dented by allegations that he was a secret police agent during the Communist era in former Czechoslovakia.

President Milos Zeman said earlier he would tap the head of the victorious party as the next prime minister.

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